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China, Haiti and migration at the top of the agenda of the Biden-Trudeau meeting


OTTAWA – President Biden used his first trip to Canada as president on Friday to reaffirm the close ties between the two nations, seeking to cement a key relationship with America’s northern neighbor at a time when the world seems increasingly divided between democratic and authoritarian blocs.

During a whirlwind 24-hour trip, Biden addressed the Canadian Parliament, received several standing ovations and met one-on-one with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who repeatedly called him a personal friend. Trudeau also cited recent “difficult times in our relationship as a country, as both friends and country,” an apparent reference to the Trump years.

Biden has signaled that those times are over. “Today I say to you and to all the people of Canada that you can always, always count on the United States of America – I guarantee it,” Biden told a noisy Parliament. “Together we have built a partnership that is of incredible benefit to both our nations.”

The United States and Canada announced they had reached an agreement to allow each of them to refuse asylum seekers seeking to cross the border at unofficial ports of entry. It was a deal long sought by Canadians, who hope to stem the growing number of asylum seekers from upstate New York. In exchange, Canada agreed to create a pathway for 15,000 refugees to enter their country legally from the United States.

Biden’s remarks in parliament were laced with a kind of giddy familiarity, as he remarked on renovations to the room where he spoke (“You did a hell of a job!”) and earned boos when he says he couldn’t root for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team because they had recently beaten their favorites, the Philadelphia Flyers (“I married a girl from Philadelphia. If I didn’t say that , I would sleep alone”).

“Hello, Canada! Biden said to begin his remarks in the House of Commons, the lower house of parliament. “I must tell you that I took four years of French at school. The first time I tried to make a speech in French, people laughed at me. So that’s as good as I can get right now.

Despite the lighter moments, the Biden-Trudeau encounter came at a tense time around the world, as Biden struggles to hold the coalition together in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The United States and Canada have also had to coordinate a response to China’s growing aggressiveness, particularly after a Chinese spy balloon flew over North America this year.

Underscoring global divisions, the summit between the two Western leaders comes just days after Putin’s meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Moscow. During a press conference with Trudeau, Biden dismissed the idea that China and Russia were forming a powerful alliance.

“Look, I don’t take China lightly. I don’t take Russia lightly. But I think we’re hugely exaggerating,” Biden said, adding, “If anything has happened, the West has coalesced much more. We have united coalitions.

The two leaders also discussed efforts to combat climate change, stabilize Haiti and curb migration. And they are discussing ways to modernize the North American air defense and detection system known as NORAD.

Although it took Biden two years to visit Canada, his first appeal to a foreign leader after becoming president was to Trudeau.

Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived Thursday evening. They were welcomed by Mary Simon, the Governor General of Canada, before joining Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, for a private dinner at their residence.

The visit was the focus of media coverage here, and the streets around Ottawa’s Biden Hotel displayed numerous American and Canadian flags. A patisserie, which still boasts of when President Barack Obama made a quick stop there for a cookie in 2009, sold cookies marked “US Presidential Visit Ottawa 2023.”

Biden’s visit provided a welcome change of subject for Trudeau, who for weeks faced questions about what his government knew about alleged Chinese interference in the recent Canadian election and how he handled it. reacted to the interference.

The president’s trip, which was shorter than Canadian officials hoped, marked his first official visit to Ottawa since late 2016 when he was outgoing vice president. At a state dinner that year honoring Biden, he raised a toast, noting that his first wife’s family was from Toronto and said his sons grew up wanting to be Mounties.

It was a month after Trump was elected, and Biden told Trudeau the world would look to him to defend the ‘liberal international order’ as he faced more challenges than at any time. since the end of World War II.

“The way I see our relationship…I know sometimes we’re like the big brother who’s a pain in the neck and bossy,” Biden said at the time. “I get it. But we’re more like family, even, than allies.

President Donald Trump has launched personal attacks on Trudeau and imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, angering Canadians and prompting retaliation. Most Canadian officials breathed a sigh of relief when Biden was elected in 2020, and officials said they were eager to work with his administration to tackle issues such as climate change.

Yet irritants remain between the two countries, including US trade policies that Canadians view as protectionist.

Biden’s “Buy American” rhetoric has worried Canadian business leaders, who also worry about tax credits and other incentives for U.S. manufacturers in Biden’s Cut Inflation Act, including for clean energy.

In a fall economic update, the Canadian government announced two clean energy tax credits in response to the Cutting Inflation Act, warning that without new measures to “keep pace of US legislation, “Canada risks being left behind”.

Additionally, the United States has urged Canada to take a leadership role in Haiti, including leading a multinational armed force tasked with restoring order to the Caribbean nation, which is reeling from gang violence. , hunger and a cholera epidemic.

However, Canadian officials have given little indication of their desire to lead such a mission, given that Haiti has a long history of destabilizing foreign interventions and Haitians are divided on the idea of ​​such a deployment. Canada’s best soldier has expressed doubts as to whether his army even has the capability to handle this task.

Instead, Canada provided aid, including armored vehicles, to the Haitian National Police and imposed sanctions on Haitian gang leaders and their supporters. The United States imposed sanctions on far fewer Haitians, a fact not lost on Ottawa. Trudeau said last week that other countries, including the United States, needed to do “much more” to penalize those responsible for the chaos in Haiti.

On Friday, Biden said any decision regarding the use of military force must be made in consultation with the United Nations and the Haitian government. “It’s not out of place, but it’s not in play right now,” he said.

He acknowledged that there was no easy solution. “It’s a very, very difficult circumstance, the idea of ​​how to deal with what’s going on in Haiti, where gangs have basically taken the place of government,” Biden said. “Indeed they dominate the roost, as the saying goes.”

The new immigration deal, however, ensured that Biden and Trudeau had a high-profile deal to announce at their summit. Under the current arrangement, which came into effect in 2004, asylum seekers who enter Canada through official border crossings are returned to the United States, and vice versa.

But the agreement did not apply to unofficial crossings along the 5,500-mile border. Now it’s OK.

Nearly 40,000 asylum seekers entered Canada from the United States in 2022, the highest number since Canada began tracking numbers in 2017. Trudeau, who has come under pressure from the premier of Quebec and of the opposition Conservative Party to close the “loophole” in the deal, told reporters this week that his government “has been working very closely with the Americans for many months.”

But if the Safe Third Country Agreement drew the ire of conservatives for being too lax and containing loopholes, it drew compensating criticism from liberals for being too harsh – and those criticisms will only grow now. that his conditions have been toughened.

“After midnight tonight, police and border officials will enforce the agreement and bring irregular border commuters back to the nearest port of entry with the United States,” Trudeau said.

Advocacy groups argued before the Supreme Court of Canada in October that the deal violated the right to “life, liberty and security of the person” under Canada’s constitution because it subjected claimants to asylum to possible detention and deportation to the United States if turned back at the Canadian border.

The changes to the agreement mean that it will also apply to anyone who enters either country at an unofficial port of entry and makes “a claim for asylum or other protection related to fear of persecution or torture” within 14 days. Proponents said the new deal would simply push migrants to pursue more dangerous crossings through dark, swampy woods and fields along the border to avoid detection by authorities.

Maureen Silcoff, a Toronto-based immigration and refugee lawyer, called the new deal a “humanitarian crisis in the making”.

“It’s a lose-lose situation,” she said. “People crossing will be in danger. The Government of Canada no longer knows who happened. And that’s just not feasible…because you just can’t patrol or police the entire border.

Biden was scheduled to attend a gala dinner at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum on Friday night, where entertainment was to include Inuit throat singers and an Algonquin drumming group from Quebec.

Guests were expected to include Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were detained in China in 2018 in what was widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request US authorities requesting his extradition for bank and electronic fraud. charges.

The detention of the “two Michaels”, as they are called here, has plunged ties between Ottawa and Beijing into a deep freeze. They were released in 2021, hours after Huawei’s executive struck a deal with the US Department of Justice that allowed him to return to China in return for acknowledging certain wrongdoing in the criminal case.


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